29 September, 2011

Learning the Lingo

If you've read this blog before, you'll already know that most of it is centered around my trials and tribulations with the language (and culture) of my adopted homeland.  So this one won't really be out of the ordinary.

This week's Xpat Blog Hop is all about language and learning the native tongue of the land you live in.  When I first moved to the Netherlands, I had absolutely no intention of learning Dutch.  Aside from being able to order a beer and catch the bus, I didn't care.  This was only going to be a short term solution and I would be out of here, back in the land of the Cashed Up Bogan (or Australia, as you may better know it as) within a couple of years.  Why waste the energy right?  Plus, Maarten was perfectly happy that I didn't speak Dutch.  Let's face it, his English is almost as good as mine.  It's probably best left unmentioned that he speaks German, Spanish and a bit of French as well.

However, there was always a pesky little voice in the back of my head shaming me and my lack of Dutch.  I was always embarrassed to answer "18 months" when asked how long I've been living here.  It was made worse by the constant "How's your Dutch?" questions.  Perhaps it was because my sensitivity to the topic was so enhanced, but it felt like every single time I would meet a new person, it would be the second question they asked me (after "Why move to Holland?!).

Then The Summons arrived and I was expected to front up for inburgering at the local city council office, and was dragged pretty much kicking and screaming to classes.  It took me eight months to pass the integration course, and almost that long again to find the time to collect my diploma!  But the big question is, how has it affected my life?

I'm not going to sugar coat it, learning Dutch was (who am I kidding, IS!) hard.  Especially as a native English speaker with limited second language exposure.  I did study French and Indonesian at school, but never to levels high enough to exist in those countries in my opinion.  The grammar is about face, the sentences are back to front, and just ask any immigrant to the Netherlands how many times a Dutchie has insisted they pronounce "Scheveningen" for kicks!

However, the rewards have been endless.  I can actually have a conversation with Maarten's non-English grandparents without breaking into a cold sweat (this was one thing that kept me going in the days I was really struggling).  Same goes for talking to little Dutch kids.  I'm going through as much of my midwife appointments speaking only Dutch as I can.  Now I receive compliments about my Dutch.  But, by far the biggest compliment for me is having a Dutch continue conversation with me as normal when I speak in Dutch.  There are no hesitations, no switching to English, no smart remarks about my accent (I have been told I sound like Princess Maxima, brag brag), just conversation.  

Learning to speak Dutch has enriched my life no end, I don't regret it for a second.  I just wish I was better at it.  I'll get there.

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